Monday, August 06, 2007

Golden Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Grilled Lemon Quarters (sans leftovers)


I'm going to begin this blog entry with a story about my dog, Tori. Four and a half years ago, I lived on my own in Arizona. I was working towards my bachelor's degree and wanted some canine companionship. I found my companion at the Arizona Animal Welfare League: short, black, furry and friendly, when she saw me walk by her outdoor enclosure, she rushed to fence and forced her nose through the chain links, curling her long pink tongue as far as it could reach around the cold metal. She tried, in every way her doggy language permitted her, to tell me that she would make a very good friend if I would just take her home and let her try. Her many remarkably and doggy-like qualities maker her my perfect companion: energetic, social, loving and cuddly, everyone who meets Tori agrees that she is sweet and good-natured.


But there is something else that everybody agrees on: if a goat ever challenged Tori to a tire-eating contest, the dog would win, hands down. Tori will eat anything that she can fit into her mouth, edible or not, with speed quicker than Greg can say "kitchen remodel". One day we walked in on her gnawing off chunks of freshly spackled drywall. She's gotten batches of cookies, bags of chocolate, pans of brownies, many types of clothes, socks, dish towels, sticks, dirt, small rocks, fruit, nuts, and whole lemons - and yes these words are all plural as in On More Than One Occasion. She has been known to eat an entire 7lb eggplant Parmesan casserole, a platter of deli meats, and, months later, a 9x9" pan of lasagna cooling in a still-rather-warm-oven. One time the soap in the dishwasher overflowed, and I came running when I saw her eagerly slurping up the suds. Tori's teeth rather regularly pierce the heavy duty metal of dog food cans destined for recycling. Pounds of cheese, cups of butter, loafs of bread - you name it, she ate it.


Which brings me to today's post, a topic that, even one day later, is still making me tear up slightly: Tori ate the leftovers from the best dish I've made all year. Now "best dish I've made all year" (indeed, the leftovers-of) sounds like a rather bold proclamation, and it is. Maybe it was because the dish was exactly what I was craving that evening, or that I was hungry and the dish was healthy, or that it was a brand new dish, something I expected to fail, and something I made without a recipe. Or, maybe it was because the dinner actually turned out really good. Whatever it was, Tori ate it all, in her sneaky, quiet-as-a-mouse manner, while I sat 10 feet away, distracted and oblivious to the delicious food rapidly reaching her insatiable stomach.


Fortunately we ate our first helpings far before her hungry teeth reached the platter, giving me an opportunity to rave about how simple and delicious this dinner truly was. I assembled vegetable kabobs the night before (yellow pepper, red pepper, parboiled carrots, baby bellas and sweet onion) and marinated them with herbs, olive oil, garlic and balsamic overnight. The next day, I assembled baked tofu with quarted lemon slices, started the bulgur salad and left Greg to deal with the grill.


Why was this dish so good? Two words: caramelized lemons. Wow. This idea is one taken directly from 101cookbooks (my second reference in two weeks, I know), and just like sauteed versus boiled gnocchi, I can promise you I will never, ever go back to raw lemon. The juicy, sweet, grilled-marked bites of lemon were A-w-e-s-o-m-e with a capital A. Really. Seriously. Try it. Just quarter lemons and throw them on the grill with everything else - in the words of Martha Stewart, it's a good thing. Grilling these lemon chunks gave them a sweet, warm, mellow flavor that would be perfect for squeezing over any vegetable, seafood, or grain based salad.


Which brings me to the actual recipe provided here. This Bulgur salad was healthy and delicious, speckled with bits of green parsley and yellow lentils. It was easy to prepare and tasted amazing, with a nice balance of bright and mellow, salty and sweet, and chewy and tender. The flavors and textures worked well together. My only comment will be about the balsamic. I don't claim to know what makes any particular balsamic vinegar a "good" vinegar, but I do know that my cheap balsamic happens to be sharp and tart and my smaller bottle of slightly-more-expensive stuff is mellow and sweet in flavor. This recipe requires something mellow and sweet to balance with the salty, nutty Bulgur. I served this Bulgur salad warm on a big platter, surrounded by Arugula (which was a perfect spicy complement to such a mellow salad) with chunks of tomatoes and oil cured olives, and topped by the skewered kabobs whose lemon quarters served to dress the whole dish together.

I really wish I had those leftovers!!


Golden Lentil and Bulgur Salad
Serves: 4

1/2 cup Bulgur Wheat, rinsed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1/2 cup Yellow, or Golden, Lentils
2 cups water
1/4 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (preferably sweet)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Suggested for serving: two cups baby arugula, olive oil for d, grilled quartered lemons and chopped cured olives

  1. Add olive oil to saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened, stirring frequently (about 3-4 minutes). Add Bulgur, a sprinkle of salt, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until lightly browned (about 5-6 minutes)
  2. Meanwhile, rinse lentils and add with 1 cup water to a small saucepan. Cover and cook until tender, about 5-10 minutes.
  3. When Bulgur is toasted, add 1 cup water and simmer until Bulgur is al dente (about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the Bulgur). Add 3 tbsp balsamic and continue cooking until Bulgur is tender and the balsamic is absorbed*. Stir in parsley, remaining 1 tbsp balsamic, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Stir yellow lentils and Bulgur together. Serve warm, drizzled with extra olive oil, next to fresh baby arugula, chopped olives and grilled lemon quarters.
*If the cooking times don't add up right, just add a little extra water and continue cooking until the Bulgur is done

11 comments:

BreadBox said...

It all sounds really interesting, and really good --- I'm going to have to try some of this...
As to the balsamic vinegar: there is an awfully big difference between good and bad balsamic, and price isn't always the only indicator. Harris Teeter supermarkets sell an own-brand version for cheap which is wonderful: so much better that the cheapo from Alessi or others that it makes me weep -- or smile:-) -- then weep, when I realise I don't have a Harris Teeter store nearby...
I've done a bunch of taste tests on balsamic: do it like a wine tasting: in fact, pair it with a wine tasting evening, and have everyone start the party early: taste balsamic on caprese salad, on strawberries and, just a very light drizzle, on a very little good vanilla ice cream. You should taste first to check which order you want your guests to taste in!

Thanks for the return visit,
N.

Rachael said...

breadbox: mmmm, I love the idea of a vinegar tasting!! I'm curious if there are certain specific qualities that make a balsamic good, or if it's like wine in that judging it is very complex. I know that personally I love the sweet, mellow balsamics.

I have yet to try it on ice cream. Sounds hardcore! : )

radish said...

this looks delicious and I've been craving lentils! your pictures look fabulous as always - what lens do you shoot with?

Rachael said...

Thanks, radish! Some of these are just with the canon rebel kit lens (18-55mm), which kind of sucks, but I recently acquired this 50mm prime lens that can go to f1.4

http://www.fredmiranda.com/reviews/showproduct.php?product=29&sort=7&thecat=2

It takes beautiful pictures with razor thin focus and beautiful bokeh. Like most of the reviewers said, I think it is a fantastic deal for the money. The only difficulty is that it has a long minimum focusing distance (1.5ft), so at 50mm I can't take close up shots very well - kind of annoying, since the 18-55 can focus at 0.9ft. It'd be nice if the same were true for the 50.

Anyway! I also do a lot of photoshopping on my images. If you use photoshop, I'd recommend this trick: copy the base layer after color adjusting, do a lens blur on the copy, switch blending to "soft light" and opacity to somewhere around 50%. I've been using this trick a lot and it really softens the look of the photo - good for people shots and food shots.

Rachael said...

Hm, that link didn't work. Let me try again with:

this link

(it's a safe link, I promise!)

radish said...

Thanks. I don't have (sob!) photoshop so I must rely on Picasa (double sob). But such is life. I shoot with a Nikon so my lenses will need to be Nikkor and they are might pricey. So I'm saving up for a new pretty macro lens. So I can start taking great pictures. I will, however, copy your suggestions for the time when i DO get photoshop!

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